PZ Myers points to an essay by John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy (1989, second edition 2001) among other books. The essay itself doesn’t venture into shockingly new territory — the cranky side of the Web has been spreading pseudomathematical myth-babble for a while now — but Paulos is a clear writer and a good debunker. Most interesting to me was the announcement in the blurb that Paulos has a new book in the works: Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up, to be published in December. The ad copy says,
Are there any logical reasons to believe in God? Mathematician and bestselling author John Allen Paulos thinks not. In Irreligion he presents the case for his own worldview, organizing his book into twelve chapters that refute the twelve arguments most often put forward for believing in Godâ€™s existence. The latter arguments, Paulos relates in his characteristically lighthearted style, â€œrange from what might be called golden oldies to those with a more contemporary beat. On the playlist are the firstcause argument, the argument from design, the ontological argument, arguments from faith and biblical codes, the argument from the anthropic principle, the moral universality argument, and others.â€ Interspersed among his twelve counterarguments are remarks on a variety of irreligious themes, ranging from the nature of miracles and creationist probability to cognitive illusions and prudential wagers. Special attention is paid to topics, arguments, and questions that spring from his incredulity â€œnot only about religion but also about othersâ€™ credulity.â€ Despite the strong influence of his day job, Paulos says, there isnâ€™t a single mathematical formula in the book.
That Paulos has chosen to write this book and push it towards the nation’s bookshelves is interesting. Back in the original Innumeracy, the book that made him famous, Paulos wrote,
There’s a long way from Adonai to I Don’t Know to I Deny — to adapt a line from poet Howard Nemerov — and plenty of room in the middle for reasonable people to feel comfortable.
Later, in A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper (1995), Paulos said,
It would be wise, in my opinion, to continue our tacit embargo on public expressions of religious belief. I wouldn’t want to see people on afternoon talk shows babbling about their faith. Even a devout agnostic such as myself would hate to see the simplistic trivialization that would likely ensue if religious shows and testimonials became common in the mainstream media. There is a fine line between public expressions of faith and public declarations thereof, and religious tolerance is inversely proportional to the latter. Honoring my own counsel, I’ll desist from further comment.
Has Paulos found himself these past twelve years living his own nightmare?